Want to Protect Your Brain? Start With Your Heart

Want to Protect Your Brain? Start With Your Heart

In February, we are surrounded by hearts. They’re everywhere—in the grocery store, shopping malls and email inboxes. You may also hear more about heart health, because February is  American Heart Month. Taking steps to strengthen your heart yields a bonus—you’ll be protecting your brain as well.

It turns out that heart and brain health are inexorably linked, according to a new Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) report on brain health and nutrition.

With every beat, the heart pumps 20 to 25 percent of blood to the brain. That blood carries food and oxygen to brain cells to help them function normally. An unhealthy heart system can wreak havoc on your brain. High blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes all damage the arteries that carry oxygen to vital organs, including the brain, says Lawrence Appel, M.D., director of the Welch Center for Prevention at  Johns Hopkins University and a GCBH panel member for the recent nutrition report.

“Damage to those vessels occurs gradually over decades, actually a lifetime,” Appel says. “Once there is damage to blood vessels, then damage to the heart and brain occur.” In addition to damage to the arteries, higher levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar probably directly damage brain and heart tissues as well, he says.

So how can we protect our hearts and  brains? Keep blood pressure and blood sugar under control, maintain a healthy weight and keep cholesterol low.

Considering this advice, it’s not surprising that the new report from the GCBH recommends a heart-healthy diet to help keep your brain strong.  The expert panel recommends a diet high in vegetables, fruits, fish and healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts and olive oil. It discourages eating processed foods, fried foods and unhealthy fats, such as transfats and butter. Appel and colleagues published a study in November 2017 in the Journal of American Cardiology that found one of the diets detailed in the report—the DASH diet—was as effective as medication for some adults with high blood pressure. Find out more details about heart healthy/brain healthy diets on page 7 and 8 of the report.

Need more motivation? A new AARP survey of more than 2,000 men and women age 40 and over found that the more fruits and vegetables people ate, the better they reported their brain health and mental well being. A full 90 percent of those surveyed said they would eat a healthy diet if they knew it would reduce their risk of cognitive decline, heart disease or diabetes. According to the experts on the Global Council nutrition panel, including Appel, a heart-healthy/brain-healthy diet does just that.

So next time you see those heart-shaped candy boxes or Valentine’s cards in the store, think about protecting your heart and your brain.

Betsy Agnvall is a health editor and writer. She’s fascinated by research that helps us understand how to live our lives to the fullest – keeping mind and body strong and sharp. In addition to working with AARP media, she previously worked as a freelance writer for The Washington Post, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Safety and Health magazine and other publications.



Source link

New Report Highlights Healthiest Foods for Your Brain

New Report Highlights Healthiest Foods for Your Brain

As the executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), I am always on the lookout for brain-healthy foods. I scan grocery aisles for chocolate bars with more than 70 percent cocoa, feel that I’m stimulating my brain when I down my morning coffee and even feel virtuous when drinking a glass or two of red wine. Turns out all my assumptions have been wrong.

The GCBH recently released a major report on how nutrition affects the brain. Brain Food: GCBH Recommendations on Nourishing Your Brain Health details how eating a healthy diet can strengthen your brain and reduce dementia risk.

When I attended the September 2017 meeting of GCBH experts in Baltimore, Maryland, I found to my surprise that although there are some studies that find brain benefits from coffee, chocolate and red wine, there isn’t enough reliable scientific evidence to recommend these foods to help keep your brain healthy. (Darn it!) Instead, the international group of experts recommended a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy fats and limited amounts of red meat, fried food and processed food. Rather than red wine and chocolate, the standouts were berries and leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale. Although there was some disagreement among the group, it was fascinating to see that experts from Greece, Italy, China, Israel and the United States generally agreed on the type of diet that would benefit aging brains. The group strongly agreed, for example, that brain health and heart health are closely connected. They said many foods that keep your cardiovascular system healthy also help keep the brain healthy.

The group discussed the foods and nutrition that many of us wonder about when it comes to our diets including gluten, grains, fats, dairy—and, yes, chocolate and wine. They examined the evidence for brain health for diets from the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Japan, as well as the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) developed by epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris and her colleagues at Rush University in Chicago. (Check out pages 7 and 8 of the report to learn more about each of these diets.) The diet that lost out was the Western diet. It seems the typical Western diet that’s high in salt, sugar and saturated fats can wreak havoc on both your heart and your brain. The experts detailed some foods that you should eat regularly, some that you should include in your diet and others that you should limit.

Graphic from pg. 4 of Brain Food: GCBH Recommendations on Nourishing Your Brain Health

“The group agreed that the evidence points to green, leafy vegetables, fish, nuts, fruits and other healthy foods as helping foster good brain health. And we also agreed that fried foods, foods high in salt and processed foods are probably not good for our brains,” said Morris, a GCBH governance committee member who attended the September meeting in Baltimore.

Eating a brain-healthy diet does make a difference in preserving memory and thinking skills as we age. The 2017 AARP Brain Health and Nutrition Survey of more than 2,000 Americans over age 40  found that adults who eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables report healthier brains and better mental well-being than those who don’t eat those healthy foods. And the more fruits and veggies they ate, the better their brain health and mental well-being scores. Seems that I may need to get out of the chocolate aisle and into the produce section.

To find out more about how different foods protect—and harm—your brain, check out the full report and recommendations here. And we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Sarah Lenz Lock is Senior Vice President for Policy in AARP’s Policy, Research and International Affairs (PRI) where she helps position AARP as a thought leader addressing the major issues facing older Americans. She leads AARP’s policy initiatives on brain health and care for people living with dementia, including serving as the Executive Director of the Global Council on Brain Health, an independent collaborative of scientists, doctors and policy experts convened by AARP to provide trusted information on brain health.

Source link

Moving Dementia Caregiver Support Services into the Mainstream

Moving Dementia Caregiver Support Services into the Mainstream

Many of you, like me, know that family caregiving for someone you love can be a source of deep satisfaction and meaning.  But caring for a person with dementia, known as dementia caregivers, can exact an especially high emotional, physical and financial toll on family members themselves.

Dementia caregivers commonly experience more emotional upset, distress, isolation, and financial burdens than those caring for people with other illnesses who do not have dementia because daily care needs are progressive, complex, and frequently unpredictable.

More people are living at home with dementia and relying on their family to care for them

Addressing the needs of dementia caregivers is important because of the growing number of older people living at home with dementia who rely primarily on their families for help with basic tasks of daily living.  According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proportion of people with dementia dying at home increased significantly between 1999 and 2014, from 13.9 percent in 1999 to 24.9 percent in 2014, underscoring the increasing numbers of people with dementia residing outside of a nursing home setting.  This means that more people than ever are caring at home for someone living with dementia often without adequate and affordable support services, exacerbating the stresses all the more.

Part of that stress is the cost to families.

A recent study on the lifetime cost of dementia shows that families incur 70 percent of the total cost of care ($225,140 in 2015 dollars) for a person living with dementia. Medicare ($52,540) and Medicaid ($44,090) accounted for 30 percent of the total cost.

Taking care of dementia caregivers

Targeted care strategies, such as education, skills training, and counseling, can make a real difference in the daily lives of people with dementia and their family caregivers.  It is especially important, for example, to have someone to talk to when help is needed to address the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Successful programs for dementia caregivers begin with the health or social service provider talking with the family caregiver about his or her unique needs, problems, strengths, and resources, in what is known as a caregiver assessment.

Although evidence-based programs hold promise to create more value in the lives of dementia caregivers, these proven services are still not commonplace in communities and available to the families who could benefit from them.

A new AARP Public Policy Institute paper highlights examples of successful dementia caregiver programs and services. The report also identifies several barriers to scaling up evidence-based programs, including health care and social service providers’ lack of knowledge about successful caregiver services, and limited technical assistance to help providers understand how to identify family caregivers who might benefit from such programs and services.  Barriers also include a lack of integration of caregiver supports in existing systems of health care and long-term services and supports, and a lack of sufficient funding and payment mechanisms to adopt proven caregiver support services in practice settings.

The forthcoming National Research Summit on Dementia Care aims to shine a light on the need to accelerate the scaling up of evidence-based services for individuals living with dementia and their family caregivers.  Advancing these programs to reach families who need them should be a priority at the federal, state and local levels.


Lynn Friss Feinberg is a senior strategic policy adviser for the AARP Public Policy Institute.  She has conducted policy analysis and applied research on family caregiving and long-term services and supports for more than 30 years.




Source link

New PSA with Ad Council Spotlights Male Caregiving

New PSA with Ad Council Spotlights Male Caregiving

A couple of weeks back, we unveiled our new caregiving ad – starring a unique caregiver. You may recognize him as the antihero from Machete or Breaking Bad, but you would never assume he’s just like you. That’s right, actor Danny Trejo is a caregiver and he is showing just how tough male caregivers are.

Although the typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman, there is a silent army of husbands, brothers, sons and friends – about 16 million– caring for their spouses, parents and other loved ones.

As family sizes shrink and the population ages, the number of male caregivers is only expected to rise, but they are often ignored in the caregiving conversation.

AARP, in conjunction with, the Ad Council is spotlighting this overlooked group through its new PSA campaign. The ad features Trejo performing the tough guy feats he is known for in films, alongside the everyday tough jobs a typical caregiver performs.

AARP’s new data profile on male caregivers shares insights on the level and type of care men provide, the challenges they face and more. Some of the key findings include:

  • More than half of male caregivers (63%) are the primary caregiver for their loved one.
    • Male family caregivers are helping their loved ones with personal care activities and more than half (54%) of male family caregivers perform medical and nursing tasks, such as injections, tube feedings, and wound care.
  • Many men say they feel unprepared for these tasks and express discomfort providing intimate personal care (e.g. bathing, dressing, toileting).
  • Men are less likely than women to reach out for help and feel uncomfortable discussing the emotional challenges of caregiving.
  • More than one-third (37%) of male caregivers don’t tell their employers that they are juggling caregiving responsibilities at home.


In addition, AARP sharing stories of men rising to the challenge and offering their lesson’s learned with others.

Caregivers can find helpful tools, like the Prepare to Care guides and more at aarp.org/caregiving.

Source link

‘Dementia Friends’ Initiative Creates Respectful Communities for People of All Ages

‘Dementia Friends’ Initiative Creates Respectful Communities for People of All Ages

In 2016, an estimated 5.4 million Americans had Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. And while people of all ages can have dementia, 8.8 percent of adults age 65 and over have the disease.

With greater longevity and rapidly increasing numbers of individuals with dementia, we are all likely to encounter a person living with dementia as we go about our lives. We may witness a person living with the disease facing any number of challenges in navigating the community. Given the stigma around dementia in our society, people with the disease may be uncomfortable asking for help, or they may avoid venturing out in public at all — resulting in their suffering still further, from isolation.

To address these challenges, Dementia Friendly America (DFA) has launched a new tool that we can use to educate ourselves about how each of us as individuals can best interact with and support people living with dementia. We can take a few very simple and quick steps to become Dementia Friends. According to Ron Grant, who lives with dementia and is cochair of DFA, “Since there is no cure for dementia diseases and disorders, being a Dementia Friend will help those of us living with dementia to continue to live well in community.”

Dementia Friendly America, a multisector collaborative that includes AARP and a number of other leading national organizations and funding partners, is catalyzing a movement to more effectively support and serve those across America who are living with dementia and their family and friend care partners. While DFA catalyzes community-wide efforts, the Dementia Friends initiative enables each of us as individuals to play our part.

Dementia Friends U.S. is modeled after an effort that began in the United Kingdom as a way to help people learn more about what it is like to live with dementia and turn that understanding into action. DFA is the Dementia Friends U.S. licensee and has collaborated closely with the U.K. to bring the best aspects of the program to the U.S.

The first step in becoming a Dementia Friend is learning to recognize the signs of dementia (or other cognitive impairment), which could include any of the following signs:

  • Difficulty communicating
  • Getting lost
  • Becoming frustrated
  • Confusion
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Poor judgment
  • Unusual or inappropriate behavior


It doesn’t matter if a person exhibiting these signs actually has dementia; what matters is that all people are equipped to respond appropriately and in a supportive manner. A series of short online training videos depicts situations where you may encounter someone living with dementia in a variety of community settings including a restaurant, grocery store, library or bank or on a public transit system — and provides information on how you can help in such situations. After viewing the videos, you can become a Dementia Friend by committing to an activity that will help someone in your community with dementia.

Take just a few minutes to become a Dementia Friend at DementiaFriendsUSA.org. You can also check out Dementia Friendly America to learn how DFA is fostering “dementia friendly” communities across the country and how your community can become a safe and respectful place for individuals and families that are addressing this disease.

As we say at Dementia Friendly America: Living with value and purpose in the community is a human right.


Stephanie K. Firestone is a senior strategic policy advisor, health and age-friendly communities, AARP International, and a member of the Dementia Friendly America National Council.


Source link

Pin It on Pinterest